San-Man answered our Q's on Kelly Johnson, which got Eye-Gor to noodling around in the cave...
KJ's actually a pretty clear template from a sabermetric standpoint. He got off track by (1) cutting down his swing (a lot) to make contact, and (2) expanding his strike zone (a lot) to not make contact.
Could a great batting coach fix him? Well, you be da judge...
=== What Time Is the Game Over, Dept. ===
KJ's contact rate on swings in the zone went wayyyyyy up in 2009 ... Johnson made contact on a preposterous (for him) 94% of all swings, when the ball was inside the strike zone.
94% - KJ
79% - Dunn
78% - Howard
77% - Cust
75% - Branyan
Raul Ibanez was at 82%, Adam Jones at 83%, Jason Bay at 80%, Mike Cameron at 82% ... contact rate in the strike zone essentially sorts ML hitters by who is hitting for power (or trying to).
Go to fangraphs, batters, plate discipline, sort by Z-Contact%, and you'll see the names line up beautifully in terms of how hard they're swinging. (You'll also get a laugh out of Albert Pujols' stats.)
Other guys in Kelly Johnson's sky-high Z-Contact% range ... Christian Guzman, Jimmy Rollins, David DeJesus, Rafael Furcal, Chone Figgins. You don't make contact with everything by putting your backside into it, kiddies. You make contact with everything by arm-swinging.
=== Dumb Luck Dept. ===
Just the same, a pepper swing shouldn't produce the .240'ish BABIP that KJ ran. That's getting into pitcher-at-the-plate BABIP.
=== Not the Best Plate Strategy, Keed ===
What is really interesting is that while KJ cut down his swing to make more contact, he also wayyyyyy expanded his strike zone -- swinging at far more pitches outside the zone.
Here is a fine article by Brian Joura on it. KJ swung at 18% of O-Zone's in 200 ... but 24-25% the last two years. Yowch.
So what happens if you cut down your swing to be sure you make contact, and then start swinging at pitchers' pitches? Well, you're going to roll over a lot of grounders to the shortstop and second baseman.
KJ doesn't have the speed to slap the ball around. He's going to run a lousy BABIP when he's arm-swinging at pitchers' pitches.
The fact that KJ felt the need to cut down his swing suggests that he felt beaten by ML pitchers in 2008-09 ... and the fact that he stopped recognizing strikes suggests that he got all messed up inside his head.
KJ looks like a pretty serious reclamation project to me: he's got to get back to contracting his zone, waiting for his pitch, and hitting the ball hard ... but his own opinion is that he's not capable of doing that.
It would be a masterly job of coaching that recovered him.
=== Opportunity Fire for the Right Sargeant ===
Kelly Johnson, when right, has been an Orlando Hudson comp offensively -- solid AVG, 60 walks, good gap power, "meh" defensively as Sandy put it.
Right now, he's (evidently) available cheap. He's either a free agent after Dec. 12 or available (undoubtedly) for a grade B prospect prior. At $3M or so, you supposedly save $5M a season (??) off Orlando Hudson. That's more talent someplace else on your roster.
The decision would stand or fall with some coach being V-E-R-Y confident that KJ could get back to his get-your-pitch-and-hit-it-hard game. Whether the M's coaches think that, who knows.
The ideal diagnosis would be, KJ (1) opened up his strike zone, swinging at sucker pitches, and THEN (2) cut down his swing in self-defense, following the lousy results. If so, then simply getting him to cut down the strike zone, could naturally restore his aggressiveness, right?
Me? I'll believe it when I see it. If KJ doesn't think he can hit, why should I think so? That's not a swipe; it's an analysis. KJ's opinion on his own ability is very relevant.
But the M's brain trust is super-confident about reclamation projects, so, eyes slideways I guess.